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Caregivers' mental health may improve with short daily meditation

March 14, 2012|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Short daily bouts of meditation may help stressed caregivers, a study finds.
Short daily bouts of meditation may help stressed caregivers, a study finds. (Beatrice de Gea / Los Angeles…)

A yoga meditation program could reduce depression symptoms and boost mental health, a study finds, and that’s not all—it may also show benefits at the cellular level.

The study, published recently in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, involved 49 caregivers ranging in age from 45 to 91 who were taking care of family members with dementia. Caregivers are at risk for high stress levels, often with no outlet or relief, which can lead to health problems.

The participants were randomly assigned to two programs: Kundalini yoga Kirtan Kriya meditation or passive relaxation with instrumental music. The yoga meditation program included breathing, chanting and repetitive finger movements, call mudras. Both were done for 12 minutes a day for eight weeks.

At the end of those eight weeks the meditation group seemed to come out ahead. Among those men and women, 65% showed 50% improvement on a depression rating scale, and 52% showed a 50% improvement on a mental health scale. Among those who did passive relaxation, those numbers were 31.2% for depression and 19% for mental health.

More evidence was found on the cellular level. The meditation group had a 43.3% improvement in telomerase activity, while the relaxation group saw only a 3.7% boost. Telomeres, the study explains, are repetitions of DNA sequences at the end of a chromosome that protect it from damage that can lead to health problems. Higher telomerase activity can help improve the durability of immune cells.

“We know that chronic stress places caregivers at a higher risk for developing depression,” said lead author Dr. Helen Lavretsky in a news release. Lavretsky, professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, added, “On average, the incidence and prevalence of clinical depression in family dementia caregivers approaches 50%. Caregivers are also twice as likely to report high levels of emotional distress.”

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